Master the Move: The Burpee

Shana Verstegen
by Shana Verstegen
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Master the Move: The Burpee

Like them or not, burpees, also known as squat thrusts, have been a fitness staple for almost a century — and they aren’t going away anytime soon. The burpee is a fundamental exercise in boot camp classes, personal training sessions and in the military. Although common, the burpee is actually quite a complicated movement.

Believe it or not, the creator of the burpee, Royal Huddleston Burpee, did not intend it as an endurance exercise. Rather, he had his clients perform only four reps with good form as he monitored their heart rate to determine fitness levels.


Rather than trying to do as many burpees as you can as quickly as you can, this article will break down the move into distinct parts before putting it all back together. As you master the move, you can start layering on more reps.


Plank is the foundation of the burpee, and all exercises for that matter. When done properly, an active plank protects the spine by bracing 360 degrees around the core.

How to do it: Begin on all fours and straighten your legs, pressing your heels back so your calves contract. Engage through the quads, hamstrings, glutes and core as you press your hands into the floor. Ensure the body is in one straight line — ears in line with shoulders and heels — and all muscles are engaged. This can also be done on your knees.

Common faults: The most common fault in plank, especially when associated with the burpee, is sagging the hips. When the hips drop during a plank, excessive pressure is placed on the lumbar spine, which can lead to back pain or serious injury. Other faults include shoulders rising up into the ears or overall lack of body tension.


Many slop through this phase of the burpee and sacrifice form for speed. To protect the spine and shoulder girdle, the proper pushup should not be overlooked.

How to do it: First and foremost, set a strong active plank (see above). Keeping full-body tension, lower your body straight as a board toward the floor. Drive your hands into the floor to activate and stabilize the shoulders, and press back up to the starting position.

Common Faults: Similar to plank, you’ll want to avoid sagging hips and elevated or rounded shoulders.


To get from the ground to the air in a burpee requires a squat. Many who have excellent stand-alone squats rush through the key parts of this foundational movement and put themselves at risk for injury.

How to do it: When jumping or stepping from plank, you will land at the bottom of your squat. If done correctly, the feet are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, the angle of the spine matches the angle of the shins, the knees are pointed forward and the shoulders are set down and back with proper posture. With the glutes engaged, press through the ground and explode into a jump.

Common faults: When snapping from the plank position into the squat, don’t leave your hands on the ground too long, this could cause a severe rounding of the spine.  Also, avoid letting your knees buckle inward leading into the stand or jump.


Finally, when lowering back down into the plank/pushup position, it’s essential to properly hinge at the hips.  

How to do it: With minimal knee flexion and a neutral and braced spine, press your hips back as you lower your hands to the ground. Keep your shoulder blades set down and back and maintain the natural curve of your lumbar spine throughout the movement.

Common faults: A rounded spine is the most common – and dangerous – fault.


Once you’ve mastered each individual part, it’s time to connect them and flow through the burpee’s exceptional movement.

Begin in a tight, active plank position on the ground. Keeping your body in a straight line, lower down and press through the floor to complete a pushup. Immediately snap your feet under your body to land in a perfect squat position. While driving the arms up to the ceiling, press your feet through the floor and engage through the glutes as you leave the ground for your jump. Hinge hips back, place hands on the floor and hop back into the active plank. To modify the intensity, step back to a plank and step up to the squat rather than jumping from plank to squat. Also, you can remove the jump portion of the burpee.



Complete this workout to lead up to the perfect burpee, gain strength and get your heart pumping!

After a 5–10 minute cardiovascular warmup, complete each exercise and rest 30–60 seconds between sets. Your ultimate goal is to master 20 perfect burpees.


  • Focus on full body tension with tight glutes and straight body alignment
  • 6 x 10 second holds with a two second break


  • Maintain proper plank tension and body alignment throughout the entire movement
  • 3 sets of 10 reps


  • Keep your chest elevated and drop your hips low and back using the glutes to press through the floor for the return
  • 3 sets of 10 reps


  • Focus on keeping your knees tracking directly forward, a nice low squat and solid arm drive
  • 3 sets of 10 reps


  • Focus on deliberate concentration of each of the foundational movements that form the burpee — plank, press, squat and hinge.
  • Maintain full-body tension and proper alignment.
  • 2 sets of 10 reps

About the Author

Shana Verstegen
Shana Verstegen

Shana is a TRX and American Council on exercise master instructor and a six-time world champion lumberjack athlete. She holds a degree in Kinesiology
- Exercise Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and is a certified personal trainer through ACE, NASM and NFPT. An energetic and personable speaker, she is also the National spokesperson for the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.


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